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We Are Watching You

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has demanded computer

usage related information from 40 odd service providers, search companies,

security software companies, and others. These companies include Google,

Microsoft, Symantec, AOL, Verizon, Earthlink, Comcast Cable, and Yahoo. Some

have compiled, some may, while  some

have refused. Google's refusal has led to widespread media coverage. The

DoJ's subpoenas are meant to aid efforts to uphold the Child Online Protection

Act—which  has not been passed

because it apparently, is not constitutionally sound.

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In India, the government is asking all mobile phone

companies to ensure that for all connections, the prospective subscriber submits

a proof of identity and a proof of address, and the company verifies it before

activating a phone connection. This is required for security reasons. Currently,

there is no debate on the constitutional soundness, but there is considerable

debate about the impact on the workload and possible slowdown in the rate of

growth of connections.

We simply

have to deploy more and more technology to combat technology related crime

Are such demands from governments correct? Will they really

help? Are they violating human rights? What will be the impact on activities

such as terrorism, crime, and pornography that are  to be controlled? The right answers are dependent on which

side of the table you occupy. The privacy advocates, by and large claim that we

support the objectives, but this is not the right way to do it. You normally do

not hear too much about which is the right way. The law enforcers claim that

their only chance to prevent crime-as opposed to solving it-is by tracing

intention through prior information.

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These debates are pretty academic. With more and more

transactions happening via computers and the Internet-there is no way that law

enforcing agencies can avoid keeping an eye on them. And there will always be a

flip side.

Take an example. Credit card companies invest heavily in

studying spending patterns to control fraud. I recently cancelled a card and

asked for a replacement because I had used the original one in a country with a

track record of fraud. When I attempted to use the new one for the first time

the transaction was declined — but I got a phone call within seconds — to

verify whether the new card was in the right hands. After which the transactions

were allowed to proceed. Technology was watching me—in a useful kind of way.

The same technology also keeps a track of all my transactions and knows

what I spend on and where. Sometimes it becomes an invasion of privacy. These

companies also keep a pattern of my spending and if there is a sudden deviation

the transaction is barred. Causes problems at times, but it does give security.

With more

and more transactions happening via computers and the Internet-there is

no way that law enforcing agencies can avoid keeping an eye on them. And

there will always be a flip side

In these examples, technology is being used to provide a

service and prevent crime. It is quite obvious that technology will have to be

used to catch technology related crime. In the case of credit cards there is a

huge commercial benefit to the card provider and the user—and therefore, huge

amounts are spent on developing and deploying technology. Other types of crimes

are less easy to quantify and their deployment is diffused across any law

enforcement agencies. And the beneficiary is society at large. Hence, technology

deployment is less than desirable.

To my mind that is the real problem. We simply have to

deploy more and more technology to combat crime. There have to be mechanisms to

prevent random and unauthorized use. But resisting all forms of data sharing is

futile. It is neither practical nor useful.

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